Barbe of soulyyours spent over twenty years working in the public school system before leaving to take on her growing Etsy shop full time. While in the process of transitioning to a part-time schedule in order to plan ahead for the big leap, Barbe was let go like so many others this past June. Since becoming her own boss, Barbe can’t imagine how she did it any other way.
How did you originally get into the business of making things?
I was volunteering with Hospice of Summa’s art therapy program, assisting Beth Wade, of Beth Wade Design, with activities for children having been touched by death. I was commissioned by a couple involved in the program to draw the logo for a 5K race, in memory of a daughter they’d lost; they wanted the caricature created in her image. Realizing the importance of symbolic mementos after having lost a loved one, I decided to design angel pins. After a lot of trial and error, Internet searching, and guidance by other artists, I stumbled upon precious metal clay (clay comprised of fine silver particles, water, and an organic binder that becomes 99.9% fine silver once fired in a kiln) and my first designs came to life! Since then, my pins (now retired), along with my other handmade original rustic jewelry designs, have been sold at juried art shows, galleries, and of course here on Etsy!
Tell us about your previous working situation:
I began my full-time work experience in 1986. Its initial purpose was not one of passion, but a means to a nice paycheck and a sound retirement. After the birth of my daughter Chelle in 2007, it became very difficult juggling a full-time job, running a small business, and giving quality time to my family. I was exhausted by the end of the day. Wanting to accumulate a couple of more years towards my 25-year retirement before setting out full time on my own, I decided to go from a management salary to a secretarial salary within the public school system. I relished in the thought of fewer hours, long winter holidays, spring breaks, and glorious summers. Not unlike many other businesses touched by recent economic challenges, as a low woman on the seniority scale, I was laid off after a year of employment in June of 2009.
When you first started selling on Etsy, did you have dreams or goals of eventually quitting your day job?
Not at first. I didn’t really have a concrete plan of where I wished to take my business. I pretty much stumbled upon Etsy, and after getting up enough confidence, decided to post my first piece in 2006. After some time away, I decided to revisit Etsy in 2007— when my daughter was just a few months old, and I was seriously considering other career options. In 2008, I began making a commitment to Etsy, building my shop, and posting on a regular basis.
Did you do anything to prepare ahead of time? Feel free to give us the nitty gritty business details.
Working for the school system, I was already prepared to be without a paycheck during the summer months. Given a couple of months notice prior to my layoff, I made certain our family bills were in order and stocked away funds enough to cover expenses regardless of how my Etsy sales and art shows were going.
What are the most effective ways you have promoted and marketed your Etsy business? What’s your best marketing tip?
I would probably receive a “D” in marketing…
- Although, I’ve found that wearing my jewelry is probably one of the best free promotions!
- Visibility at art shows has proven a huge marketing outlet for me, bringing in many repeat local customers, wholesale accounts, and commissions.
- I absolutely love Etsy Treasuries! The luck of the draw with capturing one or being featured in one (thanks Kara of Knme) makes the home page is a sure marketing success!
- Listing, listing, listing! For me, with the right mix of balance and timing, this has proven a sure way to increase my visibility and sales on Etsy.
- I am a proud member of the Etsy Metal Clay Team, an absolutely amazing Team of fine silver jewelry artisans! The Team offers a wonderful support system, a wealth of resources, as well as an avenue for cross promoting.
What have you found to be an unsuccessful promotion?
On occasion I’ve purchased ads. I noticed little, if any, increase in sales. I’ve been a bit more consistent with blogging than I have been with Twitter, and I use Facebook mainly to keep up with friends.
Walk us through your typical workday.
- 6:00 a.m. — The alarm rings, and I make my way to my zen space and practice meditation and yoga.
- 6:30 a.m. — I indulge in a cup of coffee while catching up on news, emails/Convos, Etsy Metal Clay Team posts, and Facebook. Somewhere in the midst, I kiss Jeff goodbye as he leaves for work, and greet my daughter Chelle good morning. Then, it’s time for a warm milk sippy before breakfast (for Mommy, Chelle, and our Great Dane Moia) and getting dressed. While Chelle is playing, I prep dinner.
- 9:00 a.m. — A couple of days a week, Chelle visits her grandparents so that I can work uninterrupted. Eventually, she will be attending the Spring Garden Waldorf School part time; otherwise, she “helps” me in my studio (mixed with a bit of free play, coloring, play dough, and reading). I print out, fill orders and pop them in the mailbox for our wonderful USPS man to pick up (very convenient and saves gas). Early in the week, I design (make/finish jewelry), and towards the end of the week I complete administrative tasks (order supplies, research, marketing, finances, etc.)
- 11:00 a.m. — During lunch, Chelle watches PBS, and I check emails, relist items, and check out the Etsy Forums and blog.
- 12:00 p.m. — While Chelle naps for a couple of hours, I work hard at finishing any remaining tasks.
- 2:00 p.m. — Chelle wakes up and sits on my lap while we share conversation and a snack, and when the weather is nice, we enjoy a bit of play outdoors. Jeff arrives home shortly thereafter, and a few days a week, I’m off to teach my creative awareness through jewelry making workshops (Promise Project) to elementary age school children.
- 5:30 p.m. — I arrive back home for dinner and the majority of the evening is spent with my family, outside of relisting a couple of pieces.
- 7:30 p.m. — Bathtime and story for Chelle, followed by her bedtime.
- 9:00 p.m. — At last, some free time with Jeff! …and the computer, checking emails, relisting, Facebook.
What do you enjoy most about not having a day job? Is there anything you miss?
I love being home, I love spending these irreplaceable moments with my baby girl — it feels so natural! I have my social moments, but I love my space and serene moments — the flexibility to draw from within. I certainly don’t miss the drama and tension of deadlines. I love living my passion! I love not feeling sacrificed.
What’s the hardest part about running your own business?
It did take some time adjusting to the inconsistent paycheck after 20+ years! But, it’s been a true lesson in priorities, and being able to joyfully live without spending just to spend. The comments of others who don’t necessarily perceive what I do as “real work,” because I enjoy it and because I do so from the comfort of my home, can be frustrating. Creating balance can be a challenge — trying to “leave work” in the evenings/weekends to fully be in the moment with my family and friends. Not being so hard on myself when I feel I’ve accomplished less than I should have on any given day. Although the Internet creates a world of opportunities unlike any other, with that comes the pressure as an entrepreneur to hop on every digital tool/marketing bandwagon. There is only so much time in one day… really.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself? What advice would you give someone else?
Not to wait for the universe to make the decision for me. My sister had been encouraging me for years to set out on my own. Now that I have, it’s hard to believe that I did it any other way. Never let the fear of others determine the path that you are meant to take. It is never too late to start dreaming about what you want to be when you grow up.
What goals do you wish to accomplish in the coming year for your Etsy business?
- Finding new, economically viable ways to market my shop.
- Presenting new collections I’ve had on the back-burner for a while.
- Happy customers, healthy sales!
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I can’t say enough about how wonderful Etsy is! Not merely a place to display and sell your wares, but a wonderful community of support and resources! The world seems a bit cozier being able to connect with so many wonderful people! Thanks for taking the time to learn a bit more about me!
Thanks to Barbe for sharing her story. You can see some of Barbe‘s beautiful work in the Related Items. Check out previous Quit Your Day Job posts here.